Another film of 1945, “Until the Day of Victory (勝利の日まで, 1945)” is directed by Mikio Naruse, the film was released in January of that year. Judging from the synopsis, it seems quite an odd ball for Naruse. It was about a “mad” scientist who invented a new bomb, which delivers entertainment to soldiers in the fronts, rather than deaths to enemies. It seems 15-minute fragment survives in the NFC archive. I have never seen this fragment, but the productions stills from the movie are quite tantalizing. I have no idea how this film did in terms of box office.
After this whimsical comedy, Naruse directed his first Jidai-geki (period film), “Sanju-san-gen-do Toushiya Monogatari (三十三間堂通し矢物語, A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo, 1945)“. This is partially based on the actual event in 1686. Sanju-san-gen-do is the Buddhist temple in Kyoto known for its long hall (121 m). Samurais used the whole span of 121m of this long hall to exhibit their archery skills (called ‘Toh-shi-ya’), which turned into fierce conpetition among the masters of the art. A Toh-shi-ya contestant spent a whole day (24 hours) shooting arrows and tried to beat the previous record. The record-holder is Noritoh Wasa, who successfully shot 8133 arrows to the target in 1686. The record shows that he shot total of 13053 arrows, which means he shot an arrow every 6 seconds for 24 hours (there were breaks during the event, so the actual shooting rate was much higher). The film is based on this record-breaking event, with a lot of legends and fabrications thrown in.
Daigoro Wasa is a young master of Japanese archery, who is determined to beat the previous record set by Kanzaemon Hoshino. Since Daigoro’s father failed to break the record and committed suicide (harakiri) when he was young, it was his duty to reclaim the family’s honor. He was aided by O-kinu (Kinuyo Tanaka), a young proprietor of the inn near the Sanju-san-gen-do. However, as the day of the contest approaches, Daigoro becomes agitated and nervous. Also, Hoshino apparently paid thugs to injure Daigoro to prevent him attend the contest.
Strangely, though the film contends honor, shame and Bushido as the motivation for such a deadly competition, it is neither preachy nor propagandistic. Naruse and the writer Hideo Oguni successfully weave the story of adolescent versus maturity. While the discussion of “finding the way of mastery” fails to be convincing, the narrative itself is not overtly dogmatic for the subject matter. Many view this film as a failure since Naruse’s sensibility is unfit for Jidai-geki, but who says Jidai-geki has to be always like Inagaki’s or Ito’s? I wonder how they would have come out if Naruse were to direct more Jidai-geki in later years.
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